Compact and nimble, there are certain advantages in wielding a bullpup rifle. We give you five of the best to take aim at.
What Are The Top Bullpup Rifles:
Unconventional firearm designs are legion, but none quite stir emotions like the Bullpup. Those sentiments generally are abject hate or relative indifference in most, undying love in a select few. Those who pledge their hearts to this ugly dog do so without reservation.
While the Bullpup has never come to equal its more traditional counterparts in popularity, it has built a dedicated enough following to keep kicking for more than 120 years. Yes, you heard that correctly. The concept of moving the action behind instead of above the trigger wasn’t some spawn of a Buck-Roger’s addle mind. Roughly pegged, the Bullpup is an early 20th-century concept with the Thorneycroft Carbine considered the first flesh-and-bones example. To be fair, others also played around with the idea before the bolt-action .303 British made its appearance in 1901.
It’s also safe to say, with material and mechanical advancements over the past 100 years the concept has come into its own. Other than stature, the Thorneycroft had everything it took to make the Bullpup concept a dusty novelty. Though, it did accomplish the one thing it aimed at—shrinking down the overall length of a rifle.
Why Go Short?
Overall the system is more compact than traditional configurations and, in many cases, retains a full-length or near full-length barrel. That’s a potent combination. Not only is the gun more deft in close quarters, but has the ability to go long if need be.
Size is one gold star for the bullpup, but the design has other assets. Arguably it’s nimbler and more controllable than more traditional designs, a function of hand position nearer to muzzle. And, in some opinions, easier to manage over longer periods given the mass of the rifle is closer to the body, instead of in front of it. Pretty solid points in the design’s favor.
Not Always A Good Dog
Despite these admirable qualities, the Bullpup isn’t all peaches and cream. Tradeoffs are the name of the game in firearms and there are some with the compact rifle.
Historically, poor triggers—with a load of creep—have plagued the design. Conversion kits for standard configuration rifles are notorious for this trait. Utilizing linkages and extensions to connect everything up, the extra parts subsequently make the trigger squishy.
Lefties also tend to get the shortened of the stick with Bullpups. By and large, most are configured for right-handers, with brass ejected that direction. For southpaws, the matter is further complicated due to many examples ejecting spent brass downwards. This means a face or, perhaps, a shirt full of hot brass. Some more recent designs have dealt with this, angling the ejection upwards and away from the shooter.
The final issues walk hand in hand. Bullpups are tail heavy since the magazine is located behind the trigger, thus the design tends to enhance muzzle rise. Furthermore, the mag well placement makes these rifles slower to load. Though, familiarity with the weapons system goes a long way mitigating both.
Best Bullpup Rifles
Steyr AUG A3 M1
No bullpup rifle list is complete without the Steyr AUG. Among the most widely adopted rifles in this configuration, the space-aged iron has more than proved its worth in militaries and law enforcement worldwide.
The AUG A3 M1 is the semi-automatic civilian version of Steyr’s military rifle and a tidy package. A very compact rifle, the 5.56 NATO A3 M1 measures in a tick over 28-inches in overall length, with a carbine-length 16-inch barrel. Longer aftermarket options are available if you look to extend its range. Additionally, the short-stroke piston operated rifle tips the scales at a very manageable 7.7 pounds.
The recognizable rifle has a few advantages, not the least it can be configured for left-handed shooters. Big plus. Furthermore, Steyr has excellent optics mounting options, including a long or short Picatinny rail and 1.5x or 3x integrated optics.
The controls of the AUG are very intuitive as well, safety above the grip, mag release behind and charging handle at the fore. It’s different if all you’ve run is an AR, but easy to learn.
MSRP: $2,199, steyr-arms.com
IWI Tavor X95
When shooters think about modern Bullpup rifles, Israel Weapons Industries’ Tavor is probably what comes to mind. Among the most popular options on the civilian market, the Tavor X95 is decked out for top performance by anybody who gets behind its trigger.
Starting there, the rifle has a downright excellent trigger, breaking at a crisp 5 to 6 pounds. For Bullpup fans, this is worth the price of entry alone. But the 5.56 NATO rifle has more to offer, including ambidextrous controls, ample optics rail as well as rails at the 3-, 6- and 9-o’clock positions, STANAG magazine compatibility and plenty of sling mounting points.
Ergonomics are right on the money too. An ample fore-end facilitates the utmost control and makes transitioning targets frighteningly quick. Given the Tavor is a kitten in the recoil department, you can make its nimbleness pay off.
As to the tale of the tape, the rifle boasts a 16-inch barrel and is a compact 26-inches in overall length. The long-stroke operated X95 weighs in a very comfortable 7.9 pounds. Hefty enough to make it extremely manageable, particularly shot to shot. Overall, there are few nits to pick with what IWI offers up in the X95.
MSRP: $1,999, iwi.us
Get More Bullpup Info:
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- Oddities: The AK Bullpup?
- Gun Review: The IWI Tavor SAR Bullpup
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FN’s little bullpup might be the cutest rifle on the list. But don’t be fooled. It has teeth! True enough, chambered 5.7x28mm, the rifle might not be the top-choice for self-defense. Nonetheless the cartridge is deadly as a Mohave rattler when hits are precise. And the PS90 gives you plenty of chances to hit, loading 10 and 30-round magazines.
If compact is the key asset you’re searching for, the FN Bullpup has it in spades. A scant 26-inches in overall length, the 16-inch barrel rifle is ideal in close quarters and plenty quick at the shoulder. It’s also light, weighing in at just over 6 pounds. That said, given the 5.7 is a tame cartridge to begin with the PS90 is substantial enough to all but eliminate any recoil. Read, it’s a fast and accurate shooter.
Ergonomics of the PS90 are a sticky point for some—especially the grip rake on the thumbhole stock. It works but is such a marked break from what’s considered typical comfort can take time.
Reloads require similar adaptation too, given the magazine loads on the top of the rifle. Strange as it might sound, this potentially makes the rifle quicker than traditional Bullpup systems, given the greater access. Unique as all get out, the PS90 is both fun and deadly serious.
MSRP: $1,949, fnamerica.com
Desert Tech MDRX
Desert Tech made its name with long-range rifles, but has shown more than proficient with carbines since the release of MDRX. A top-dollar option, the Bullpup rifle proves value to those who not only want performance, but also versatility. Where that plays out is the MDRX’s ability to jump calibers. Requiring only minutes to convert, the platform puts four calibers in your hands—.223 Wylde, .308 Winchester, .300 Blackout and 6.5 Creedmoor.
The rifle tends on the heavy side, weighing in at a hair under 9 pounds with a 16-inch barrel. Still it proves extremely trim in size. At 26-inches in overall length, the MDRX is agile, particularly with plenty of real estate upfront for the support hand. It’s also manageable, even in a .30-caliber configuration. An absolute kitten? No. But the rifle is more than capable of quick and accurate follow-up shots in skilled hands.
Desert Tech has improved the trigger over the years, striving for crispness and predictable. And the company has included all the amenities you’d expect in a modern rifle system: ambidextrous controls, plenty of optics rail space, threaded muzzle (it comes with a brake) and STANAG magazine compatibility.
Even more appealing, depending on the caliber, you have the option to choose the MDRX’s ejection style—front or side. This proves a bonus for lefties who don’t care for hot brass in their face.
MSRP: $2,099, deserttech.com
Kel-Tec has always had a different take on firearms, which makes it a natural to take on the bullpup. The RDB line is the result, though we tend toward the standard model RDB17. What makes the rifle appealing is the flexible configuration and downright affordable price tag compared to much in the niche. An excellent combination.
As to what you get in the bullpup, a short and stout 5.56 NATO with some extras that make the rifle particularly appealing. In addition to STANAG magazine compatibility, it boasts an adjustable short-stroke piston system, top and bottom Picatinny rails and very intuitive controls. The safety mimics the AR-15's in placement and the magazine release is very quick to operate via a paddle behind the grip.
The rifle is fully ambidextrous, including how the rifle spits spent brass. Ejecting spent case below the buttstock, the system eliminates what is typically the greatest bullpup bane for lefties.
As to size, the RDB17 hits all the right notes. The 16-inch barreled rifle comes in just north of 27-inches in overall length and tips the scales at 7-pounds flat. Ample foregrip aids in getting the most out of the compact package, endowing the gun with an abundance of agility. And the mild nature of the 5.56 cartridge lets you take full advantage of its fast target transitions.
MSRP: $1,000, keltecweapons.com
Springfield Armory Hellion
While the Springfield Hellion may have only become available Stateside in early 2022, the rifle already has a well-proven track record. This is because the Hellion is made by HS Produkt of Croatia, and it’s merely a semi-auto, U.S.-legal configuration of the company’s VHS-2 rifle. The design has been tested and refined through military trials and has been adopted by several groups of armed professionals around the globe. Because the core features of the Hellion are the same as the VHS-2, it should prove to be an incredibly reliable and durable rifle, but a few changes have been made to make it better suited for the U.S. market.
One of those changes was adding compatibility with STANAG AR-15 magazines, which are a little more plentiful in the U.S. than the original VHS-2’s G36 mags. Regardless of what feeding device is used, the Hellion is a 5.56x45mm rifle with a 16-inch barrel in a package that’s only 28.25-inches-long. It uses a short-stroke gas piston system with two settings of adjustment, and it weighs 8 pounds unloaded. Other features include an ambidextrous charging handle and safety, an adjustable stock with a cheek-riser and QD-sling points on both sides of the rifle’s stock and handguard. The case ejection system is reversible too, making the Hellion a great choice for lefties.
As for mounting accessories and optics, the handguard has M-LOK slots and a generous amount of Picatinny rail spanning the top portion of the rifle. Flip-up iron sights were integrated into the design as well. While it may be new to us here in the U.S., the Hellion is quickly gaining traction and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it become one of the most-popular bullpup rifles on the market.
MSRP: $1,999, springfield-armory.com
Editor's Note: Adam Borisenko contributed to this article.
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I have had my Steyr AUG Gen. 1 (imported by INTERARMS) for decades and love it. I got a Steyr bayonet lug and blank firing adaptor for it. It is very accurate with good ammo.
About 7 years ago I bought an FN PS90 and upgraded the trigger (hammer pack), added a larger charging handle and put 3 aftermarket Pic rails on including a low mount rain for the Vortex SPARC II red dot sight.
Also I have a RUGER 57 that shoots, natch, the same 5.7 x 28 cartridge.
Both guns are very reliable and real “range toys” that attract attention.
As I read this, it occurred to me that the whole notion of legally restricting (limiting, prohibiting, taxing, etc.) short barrelled rifles is completely pointless.
It’s a remnant of the Feds trying to ban handguns with the NFA. If a handgun ban had passed, the barrel length requirements would have stopped folks from circumventing the law by throwing a stock on their pistol and calling it a rifle. The handgun ban was a dog that wouldn’t hunt, but the lawmakers were too lazy or scurrilous (likely both) to remove the length requirements. Thus, yes, utterly pointless law … but arbitrary laws are the despot’s favorite kinds of laws.
Elwood – add “that they get to interpret any way they want to” to you last sentence and you pretty well nailed the issue.
Perhaps an article regarding who, what and why the NFA came about is in order.AS many know there was a lot more to it than simply keeping ‘dangerous’ firearms out of the hands of undesirable people